The Present Crisis and the crisis of liturgy and catechesis

Rev. Msgr. Richard C. Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in the Diocese of Cleveland.  He has, today, a piece at Crisis which is worthy of close attention.

Please don’t jump to the false conclusion that I am in strong disagreement with Msgr. Antall just because you see a lot of red below!  He is definitely over the target.

I want to “dialogue” with this, so you will find my by-now-characteristic emphases and comments:

A Crisis of Faith Cannot Be Met by Liturgical Protocols
[“Uh oh!” was my initial reaction to the title.  But that “protocols” got my attention: he didn’t say “rubrics”.]

The unprecedented message of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI regarding the crisis of the clergy contained a surprising illumination that is so incisive it will probably be ignored for years: All problems connected to Holy Orders are related in some way to the Eucharist. Benedict wrote: [It wasn’t lost on me!  But I like his subtle stiletto into the the ribs of chancery and parish personnel.]

Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern… What predominates is not a new reverence for the presence of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with Him that destroys the greatness of the Mystery. The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration shows how little we Christians today still know about appreciating the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence. [“Still know” implies an erosion.   Yes.  This is exactly right.  There are vestiges of “appreciation” in most mainstream parishes and, dare I say, chanceries and seminaries.  However, the erosion is still underway.  This is why Summorum Pontificum is so important and, with it, documents like Sacramentum caritatis and Redemptionis Sacramentum.]

The pontiff [Benedict] sees a relationship between the lack of spiritual discipline of the clergy with a lack of respect for the sacrament. The former professor thinks that a lack of clarity about sacramentality has repercussions in the holiness and morality of those called to officiate the sacraments.  [And vice versa.   However, the one has logical priority.] Understanding worship in terms of merely human dynamics removes a sense of awe that protects a sacramental encounter with Christ from being “a purely ceremonial gesture.” There is a danger that priests can become “masters of faith,” meaning that they work with faith as “experts” and only intellectually or in terms of human dynamics instead of being “mastered by the Faith.”  [Good stuff here. Let’s remember that our Catholic thing is both intellectual and affective.  It is both kataphatic and apophatic.  It is simultaneously immanent and transcendent.  When we move in the sphere of Faith, we must embrace the fides quae in light of the fides qua.  What comes to mind is Augustines: Nisi credideritis non intelligetis, as well as Ratzinger’s admonition of Rahner that one cannot pray to an “Existenzmodus“.   The deep content of our Faith is a Person with whom we can have a relationship that goes beyond study and deconstruction and liturgical positivism.]

What is true of the clergy is true of the whole Church. [This is the “knock on effect” that I am forever banging on about, especially in regard to the priest’s ars celebrandi.  This is, hence, why the aforementioned SP and SC are so important for the priest and the congregation in turn.] The weakening of a faith in the sacraments results in a religion that is individualistic or merely social and emotional. The discounting of sacramental realism would make our worship more centered on relationships with other people instead of touching the Holy and Divine. [One of the truly stupid and wicked things, one of the seriously corrosive things we heard in seminary from those heresiarch’s placed over us like pharaoh’s foremen was that – I am not making this up – “the sacrament really occurs when you look into the eyes of the other person”.  For dumb!] The lack of a sense of transcendence can lead to a flattening of the sacraments into human signs. This has a bad effect on the priest who can think that his actions are more crucial than Christ’s. It also explains why some Catholics lose respect for the sacraments because of a lack of sympathy for the officiant. They shop around for a priest whose style is more moving or simpatico, as if the Real Presence were not enough. Protestant churches with no sacramental theology tend to need preachers who bring with them special effects, music and light shows, and some theatrical styles.  [To be fair to people who shop around when it comes to priests and worship, some are sincerely looking precisely for reverence and transcendence and a conscious “sacramentality” of liturgy.]

The weakness of sacramental theology debilitates faith. Polls tell us that some Catholics do not know how to talk about the truths of the faith. The word transubstantiation apparently stumps them. [Can we all stipulate that for the last few decades catechesis at every level has been utter disaster?  And it was engineered.  But our liturgy itself, though not primarily catechetical is fundamentally catechetical.  Lex orandi…!  ] One study concluded that about two thirds of Catholics had an idea of the Real Presence, some of them “knowing believers” who could explain the doctrine and some “unknowing believers” who could not articulate the truth about the Sacrament but believed it. The study concluded that the “crisis” about the Real Presence among Catholics in America was a question of religious education and not of belief because only one-third of the people polled seemed to deny the doctrine!  [One of the talks I give is about Modernism 2.0.   I get into this problem.  Perhaps your parish needs this talk.]

[And now comes a HUGE problem…] But what have the bishops done about this problem of religious education[With rare exception DAMN LITTLE TO NOTHING.  They’ve made the situation WORSE.  The next time you read something from a bishop about what we have to do to improve “FILL IN THE BLANK”, look for any mention of liturgical worship.] “Liturgical” education, especially regarding the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the use of the new official translation of the Mass, has had to do with externals, not with doctrinal issues. There is a substantial number of Catholics who seem to doubt a crucial belief in sacramentality and yet all they hear from the pulpit and in workshops are protocols for posture and proper responses. Sacramental theology has been lost in a multitude of externals.  [It like a medic focusing a broken leg when the patient has a sucking chest wound.]

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who left the ministry of his Unitarian Church because of his refusal to celebrate the Eucharist, said that “In the history of the Church no subject has been more fruitful of controversy than the Lord’s Supper.” He called “the posture in which men should partake of it” a “frivolous” question and concentrated on his doubts about the Real Presence and the utility of considering a “perpetual ordinance” what was a vestige of the Jewish religious tradition. He also said St. Paul’s insistence on the Eucharist was connected with the apostle’s incorrect idea of the proximate character of the Parousia. Emerson saw no more need to celebrate regular Eucharists than to have ritual foot washings.

What Emerson called a frivolous question has somehow taken center stage in some places. In my own diocese there has been much attention to issues of posture and protocols [there’s that word from the title] of purification and presentation. At one point some years ago I said that more attention was given to posture than to receiving sacraments worthily and with preparation. Recently, the Liturgy Office has been involved in a Lenten Blitzkrieg of statements and bulletin announcements about the necessity of remaining standing until the last person has received communion. [For dumb!  This liturgical positivism is, by the way, a product of the fever-swamp brains of liberals.   Libs accuse traditionalists of being “rigid”.  HA!  To find liturgical rigor mortis find a lib.  They have this need to force everyone to do exactly the same thing at the same time.  The Roman thing, however, is far more flexible.  You can see it in the way that the traditional liturgies are celebrated by people who have finally become comfortable in them: several things can go on at the same time instead of everything proceding in blocks with pauses in between.  People can kneel, stand, move about it necessary.] This is a rubrical extremism that goes beyond the toleration expressed by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. [cf. the aforementioned Redemptionis Sacramentum.]

There has been some reaction to the full court press of the Liturgy Office of the Diocese, but to no avail. The question of standing and watching while everyone receives in the Communion Rite has alienated some Catholics who are worried about respect both for the sacrament and the individual spiritual moment of the communicant. They do not feel that standing and staring is a reverent response to communicating. A man in my parish said he would stop coming to church if I made him stand after receiving communion instead of kneeling immediately as he has all his life. I told him that I was not a “liturgical martinet” to enforce postures at such a juncture.  [Good man.]

One priest told me he disliked the new efforts at enforcement of the rubric because it seemed to emphasize a “horizontal” approach to communion as opposed to a “vertical” one. In other words we were to be attentive to who has received so as to be in some kind of fellowship (of the standing posture) with others at Mass. (And what about those who don’t receive?) Thus our personal encounter with the Real Presence we had received was somehow conditioned (or wasn’t complete) on our communion with others. [Remember what I wrote above.]

This reminded me of a conversation I had some years ago with a priest slightly older than I am who said, “We were told that the Real Presence was in the community, I don’t get all this attention to tabernacles.” [Another victim of the modernists.  They will surely burn.] Of course the fellowship with others is a very important thing. But does that mean we discount the Real Presence in the tabernacle or in our own bodies, as we say, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”?  There is an old prayer in the Raccolta that reads, “Lord, I adore you within me.” [I remind the reverend writer that the rubrics of the Novus Ordo want us to ignore the tabernacle during Mass. Sapienti pauca.]

The flurry of activity about forbidding kneeling or sitting immediately after receiving the Eucharist in favor of waiting until everybody sits or kneels seem to be a misplaced emphasis. However, another priest said that since one rubric had caused so much agitation, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. “The bishop will have to get after the parishes without kneelers, because the rubrics say we should kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer, and the churches with hidden tabernacles will have to obey Canon Law and make them visible to the entire congregation.”  [Double-standard, much?  But we get it, don’t we.]

From his lips to God’s ears! Given the catechetical crisis implied by Catholics who either don’t believe in the Real Presence or cannot articulate what the Church teaches, I would think it would be a priority to emphasize a proper reverence for the Sacrament by kneeling at least during the Consecration. The absence of the tabernacle in the main body of the church does not fulfill what is required by law and does not teach the proper respect for the Body of Christ and what Pope Benedict calls, “the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence.” Genuflection in the direction of the tabernacle is an act of worship that would be a remote preparation for personal sacramental communion. In some churches the ambry where the Holy Oils are displayed is more prominent than the tabernacle.  [Isn’t that the truth.]

Pope Benedict’s words are a tremendous prophecy for us. “Our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern.” He is right when he says that there has not been a development of more reverence but rather a decline of appreciation. Are we then surprised that some Catholics feel they don’t need Sunday worship or don’t hold the Eucharist in esteem, sometimes saying that they don’t care if their children go to other kinds of congregations because prayer is all the same? If the sacrament is about the congregation at worship and one’s feelings of connection with others and not about what it is in itself, why wouldn’t you worship in any other denomination? The greatest tragedy of a Catholic who leaves for other denominations is his loss of the Eucharist. But if he doesn’t know what’s being lost? And who didn’t make that clear to parishioners[“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord.]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ellen says:

    I was at a parish where the congregation was supposed to stand from the end of Agnus Dei until everyone had received communion. I’m getting on in years and it was terribly uncomfortable for me. My back was hurting! So I knelt to say my prayers, received communion, knelt again and finally sat down. I got some side eye, but I really didn’t care.

  2. Lockwood says:

    There is a very successful Congregational Church in my town where a very large percentage of the congregation were brought up as Catholics. There are no theatrics at this church but much focus on the Bible, the life of Christ and the meaning of the Epistles (especially those of the Apostle Paul). The former Catholics go because this fulfills their sincere and honest religious hunger and longing in ways that the local Catholic churches do not. But by and large they do not understand the differences. For example: Many, I understand, see no difference between the “Communion” at the Congregational Church and the Holy Eucharist at a Catholic Church. I find this easy to believe myself because, as “child of the 60’s”, I am very sorry and ashamed to say that I was not fully conscious of the doctrine of the Real Presence until relatively recently (not to imply that I truly understand it even now). So my own view is that (1) the real crisis in the Catholic Church is to a great extent the result of many generations of abysmally poor religious education, (2) many lapsed or lukewarm Catholics have a deep-seated thirst for learning more about what our Lord actually taught and the meaning of His life, death and resurrection, and (3) the Catholic Church institutionally, for all the talk about cathechesis and evangelization, isn’t doing nearly enough to provide in depth adult education to existing adult parishioners. It could be any number of things: “Bible study”; handouts in the weekly bulletin that explain doctrine, spell out clause by clause the Lord’s Prayer; brochures on how to pray the Rosary. There are models: the less theatrical Protestant churches actually can be very good at this sort of thing.

    Proper rites are critically important, but more needs to be done so that people understand what the rites mean.


  3. Sandy says:

    Great article. How sad that going to Mass produces sadness in my soul, but there it is. What I value so very much, and look for in Mass, is reverence. How can reverence be uppermost when there’s talking before Mass, EMHCs go to the altar talking and shaking hands on the way (even though we’re already into the Agnus Dei/Lamb of God), the sign of peace, well……. Adoring my Jesus shouldn’t be a time of pain, but, when it is, I offer it for the salvation of my family!

    God bless you, Father Z, for publicizing articles such as this. May the whole Church wake up soon!

  4. samwise says:

    Ruthinian and Maronite Divine Liturgies encourage standing rather than kneeling. Of those I attended, they were wonderfully reverent toward the Eucharist( in fact, a Lebanese altar server told me he didn’t know laity could handle the Eucharist– since they receive by tincture). Various Rites enrich the Church so I’d recommend attending at least once

  5. BrionyB says:

    Thankfully I have never attended a parish where there were explicit instructions about posture for the congregation, so I tend to do my own thing at the OF Mass, which for me means kneeling from the Sanctus to after Communion (a habit formed from regularly attending the TLM, to the extent that it would now feel strange to stand while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar).

    I mind my own business regarding what others do, and they seem to return the favour, because no one has ever said anything. I think it helps that in a large multicultural city parish you have lots of people of different nationalities and backgrounds, and quite a transient congregation with many one-off visitors, so it’s rather anonymous and there is no “normal”. That’s a nice thing about big cities in general, I think! Maybe in a more settled suburban or village parish where everyone knows each other (and gossips about each other), it would be a bit more awkward.

    I really love the “flexibility” of the congregation’s role at the TLM. It seems much more grown-up, somehow, that we are trusted to participate as we see fit, which might not be exactly the same way for everyone.

  6. L. says:

    Father Z, I know this stuff is very serious, but sometimes I can’t take it seriously because there is so much irreverence and stupidity in what I’ve seen at Masses in parishes around my diocese.

    ¶ 43 of the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) says, “The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan Bishop determines otherwise.” (I think that Susan From The Parish Council would ask where they get off using all those foreign words.) Our Bishop determined that we should stand after the Agnus Dei is said until we return from Communion, because… I don’t know why. My suspicion is that the Vicar General, who really ran the diocese and who is well known to be skeptical of all things Catholic, thought a little less piety was in order.

  7. monstrance says:

    Fr Z,
    There has not been a more consequential article.
    The devastation left by Satan’s assault on the family and on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is staggering.
    If you have been blessed to have a Priest who has not caved in to the modernists, give thanks to Almighty God.

  8. TRW says:

    Good points made by both Fr. Z and the author of the article. The incarnational dimension of Our Catholic Faith has been steadily eroded by forces both inside and outside the Church. Deist, Immanentist and New Age conceptions of
    Divinity seem to have infected our thinking. Strangely, there are two (seemingly diametrically opposed) extremes that both appear to inform modern understandings of what constitutes divinity.
    1.God is conceived of as being so utterly transcendent and unknowable that He couldn’t possibly have any bearing or claim on our worship of Him(or our moral decisions).
    2. A New Age pantheism/immanentism that views God as being nebulous/ubiquitous. He couldn’t possibly be made “more present “. ie: ” Isn’t God everywhere?”

    Both of these extremes, when combined with a subjectivist, postmodern concept of what is “good”, undermine our Catholic understanding of some people, places and things as being “holy”. For many, the word “holy” simply becomes synonymous, in a very mundane way, with the word “good”. The efficiency with which these erroneous views have dismantled our understanding of the Real Presence, sacramental theology, moral theology, worship, and even the incarnational nature of the Church itself, points to a diabolical agenda.

  9. carn says:

    Can someone shortly explain to me that thing about standing till everyone received?

    Who decreed so and on what authority?

    I hear that idea the first time. I thought the usual thing is to kneel till the Priest is done with cleaning. That got me some time ago into some stamina problems, cause i was physically in a bad shape, the church was full and all kneeler space was occupied, so i knelt on the stone floor; my legs complained a bit.

    Did i break any rule?

  10. samwise says: Ruthinian and Maronite Divine Liturgies encourage standing rather than kneeling. Of those I attended, they were wonderfully reverent toward the Eucharist( in fact, a Lebanese altar server told me he didn’t know laity could handle the Eucharist– since they receive by tincture).

    Yeah, but in the Roman tradition, kneeling is a more reverent posture than standing. You can’t abolish kneeling without conveying the impression that what you’re no longer kneeling to really wasn’t that big a deal after all.

    The liberals in the church have been telling us for years that we are in the Golden Age of the Laity. But if that’s the case, then how come, in the new Mass, the gestures and postures of the laity are strictly regimented and tightly controlled, while the priest at the altar says and does whatever the hell he wants?

  11. Kerry says:

    To Sandy, and others grimacing through the Mass of Paul VI, I courteously recommend learning to pray in Latin. The Fair Penelope and I undertook this discipline some many months ago. It is not difficult. (We remember with some humor our difficulty pronouncing “dimittimus” and other greater than five syllable words.) We do not bang it out loudly, nor do we “Stifle, Edith, stifle!” The triple “Domine non sum dignus” and Confiteor with its “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa”…oh my. And when the singing is “Holeeeee, holeeeee, holeeeeeee”, we intone sotto voce, “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus”, and similarly at the Agnus Dei. We genuflect at “Et incarnatus est…et homo factus est”, and press palms together with eyes closed at the ‘Sign of Peace’. And so on. My wife cannot kneel to receive without a kneeler; I kneel on the floor. I especially recommend learning the Prayer to St. Michael in Latin; it gallops! Recently even the dreadful ditty, “Marty Haugen Sunday!”, sung to the tune of the Monkee’s song, “Happy Valley Sunday” seems not to penetrate the (Latin) shields. (“It’s another Marty Haugen Sun-day-ay, Here in Novus ordo land!” I only know half the first verse.)
    Any way, God Speed. Benedictum sit nomen Domini nostri Jesu Christi. Y Viva Christo Rey!

  12. ChesterFrank says:

    On my walk I passed a church, and in front of that church was a sign that listed the times for the Celebration of the Eucharist. The times were Saturday evening and Sunday morning. I thought , what is the official name of that thing Catholics go to Saturday evening and Sunday morning? Why are they avoiding saying that?

  13. Charles E Flynn says:


    By any chance, did the same or another nearby sign identify the premises as a “Catholic Faith Community”, at which “all are welcome” (the latter having both orthodox and heterodox interpretations)?

  14. Bonaventurian says:

    Perhaps it has something to do with introducing a liturgy which de-emphasized the sacrificial aspect of the Mass and de-emphasized the Real Presence has lead to this? Protestantizing the Mass for the sake of ecumenism has lead to this, what else did they expect?

  15. guatadopt says:

    I have a great respect for Msgr. Antall. He was close with a priest who was a mentor to me from my youth (a very traditional priest who was the most gifted homilist I have ever heard…passed away last year may he rest in peace). Anyway, here in Cleveland we did have have to suffer through weeks of bulletin reminders about the new postures and endless explanations as to why. Thankfully my parish is more traditional than most, but standing after Communion defies all logic. I just offer it up and pray it reduces my time in purgatory.

  16. The perfect opportunity to educate or reeducate Catholics about the Eucharist is squandered at every Christmas and Easter Mass. I’m not saying there aren’t any exceptions, but I’ve never witnessed one. You good and courageous priests know who you are. Think of the many thousands of Mass attendees in every diocese who sacrilegiously receive the Eucharist on those days. Have they committed a worse sin then if they hadn’t attended Mass at all? Are those who haven’t informed them complicit in that sin? Including their accompanying loved ones? I think there should be a laminated sheet of explanations placed in all of the pews, enough for the full capacity of each pew. And that especially on such Holy Days an announcement should be made prior to the beginning of Mass for all to read the information sheet. There are very non-harsh ways the information could be expressed, but at the very least the point should made “if you haven’t been to confession since the last time you unavoidably missed attending Mass, please do not receive the Eucharist”. Think of the many thousands of conversions that might be sparked by that one instruction and all of the sacrileges that won’t be committed. Maybe the offering will be less than normal, but the greater that loss, the greater the investment.

  17. Zavodny Margarett RBC says:

    Good for you! I don’t always participate in the dreaded “Glad-handing of Peace”, either. I kneel as I was taught to do whenever the Tabernacle is opened, which frequently happens at that point. I also kneel for the Agnus Dei–it is, after all, a penitential prayer!

  18. Unwilling says:

    Rich and inspiring annotated article. Insightful and illuminating reader comments. Thank you!

  19. Sandy says:

    To Kerry: I smiled when I read your comment b/c it’s all I can do not to say out loud at Mass, “Domine non sum dignus…………” I still remember the Latin as I was raised with it. All the criticism now that people wouldn’t understand Latin is hogwash! We knew what the prayers meant; the English was available for any who wanted to know. Don’t get me started :)

    Good for you taking on the task of learning!

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